Phantasmic Radio

Phantasmic Radio

by Allen S. Weiss

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The alienation of the self, the annihilation of the body, the fracturing, dispersal, and reconstruction of the disembodied voice: the themes of modernism, even of modern consciousness, occur as a matter of course in the phantasmic realm of radio. In this original work of cultural criticism, Allen S. Weiss explores the meaning of radio to the modern imagination. Weaving together cultural and technological history, aesthetic analysis, and epistemological reflection, his investigation reveals how radiophony transforms expression and, in doing so, calls into question assumptions about language and being, body and voice.
Phantasmic Radio presents a new perspective on the avant-garde radio experiments of Antonin Artaud and John Cage, and brings to light fascinating, lesser-known work by, among others, Valère Novarina, Gregory Whitehead, and Christof Migone. Weiss shows how Artaud’s "body without organs" establishes the closure of the flesh after the death of God; how Cage’s "imaginary landscapes" proffer the indissociability of techne and psyche; how Novarina reinvents the body through the word in his "theater of the ears." Going beyond the art historical context of these experiments, Weiss describes how, with their emphasis on montage and networks of transmission, they marked out the coordinates of modernism and prefigured what we now recognize as the postmodern.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822399452
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 09/07/1995
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
Lexile: 1500L (what's this?)
File size: 571 KB

About the Author

Allen S. Weiss is the author of several books, including The Aesthetics of Excess, Shattered Forms, Perverse Desire and the Ambiguous Icon, and Mirrors of Infinity.

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Phantasmic Radio

By Allen S. Weiss

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9945-2


From Schizophrenia to Schizophonica: Antonin Artaud's To Have Done with the Judgment of God

Nobody in Europe knows how to scream any more. – Antonin Artaud

What does it really mean, "To hear death in his voice?" How can one attain the impossible narrative position established from the point of view of one's own death? In 1933 Antonin Artaud gave a lecture at the Sorbonne entitled "Le Théâtre et la peste" ("The Theater and the Plague"), which was to become a chapter of his masterpiece, Le Théâtre et son double (The Theater and Its Double). His presentation is described by Anaïs Nin:

But then, imperceptibly almost, he let go of the thread we were following and began to act out dying by plague. No one quite knew when it began. To illustrate his conference, he was acting out an agony. "La Peste" in French is so much more terrible than "The Plague" in English. But no word could describe what Artaud acted on the platform of the Sorbonne.... His face was contorted with anguish, one could see the perspiration dampening his hair. His eyes dilated, his muscles became cramped, his fingers struggled to retain their flexibility. He made one feel the parched and burning throat, the pains, the fever, the fire in the guts. He was in agony. He was screaming. He was delirious. He was enacting his own death, his own crucifixion.

This extremely disturbing scene may serve as our prolegomenon to a consideration of a later disruption of our aesthetic field, Artaud's Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu (To Have Done with the Judgment of God), his final work and major radiophonic creation.

Artaud's internment in psychiatric institutions – where he suffered a spiritual, symbolic, metaphysical "death," as he so often claimed – corresponded with the duration of the Second World War. Perhaps the terrible manifestations of war – the shrieks of sirens, screams, shattered and dismembered bodies, the explosions of bombs, innumerable ways to die – already evident in Artaud's theater, were displaced by Artaud once again, expressed both in his subsequent aesthetic mannerisms as well as in the more immediate and morbid symptoms of his illness. His behavior in the asylum was characterized by delusions, auditory hallucinations, repetitive ritualistic acts, coprophilia, glossolalia, and uncontrollable violent tantrums. The therapeutic response was equally violent: electroshock therapy and insulin shock therapy. (Electroshock therapy, creating violent convulsions of the body, was developed in Rome in 1938; insulin shock therapy, which puts the body in a comatose state, was developed in Vienna in 1933.) These tortures, in addition to his confinement (under extremely difficult wartime conditions), his total dispossession (all of his personal belongings, including several objects of highly symbolic value, were stolen), and his internal psychic torments, all resulted in his understanding of his situation as an imitatio Christi, which was at the very center of his theologically oriented paranoia.

Artaud returned to Paris in 1946 a physically broken man. (This is strikingly apparent in a comparison of photographs of Artaud taken before and during his incarceration.) Finally, his condition was mortally aggravated by a long-undiagnosed terminal rectal cancer. (When this condition was finally discovered, it was too late for treatment, and the diagnosis was withheld from Artaud, as it often was in such cases, due to the vilification and fear of cancer in that epoch. Yet given Artaud's extreme sensitivity to his body, and given the terrible pain caused by this disease, he must have known the gravity of his condition.) The manner in which cancer has been stigmatized in our century is investigated by Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor: it is ill-omened, abominable, repugnant, desexualizing, corrosive, corrupting, parasitic; it is a revolt of the organs, metaphorized as demonic possession or as demonic pregnancy; cancer is, ultimately, a disease that cannot be aestheticized, and to name it is an incitement to violence. It is thus a fortiori a perfect disease for paranoids, where in Artaud's case it would not be too extreme an analogy to liken his cancer to the parasitic God with which he struggled during his confinement in the psychiatric institutions.

Would it be too extravagant to suggest the electric shocks that traversed and convulsed his body were countered with electric "shocks" of his own: a radiophonic transmission? The redemptive quality of such a work cannot be overlooked, nor can its role as psychic overcompensation for his previous isolation, suffering, and position as an outcast: in contrast to the demonic voices that had tormented him, he can now broadcast and thus orally universalize his passions, his art, and his cultural critique. (It would thus be a misconception to read the viciously anti-American opening passages of To Have Done with the Judgment of God as a political statement, especially given Artaud's antipolitical rhetoric, articulated as early as in his polemic against the Surrealists.)

In November 1947 Fernand Pouey, director of dramatic and literary broadcasts for French radio, commissioned Antonin Artaud to create a recorded work for his series La Voix des poètes, to be broadcast on Radiodiffusion française. This was the origin of Artaud's final work, To Have Done with the Judgment of God. In May 1946 Artaud returned to Paris after nine years of incarceration in insane asylums, where during the last sixteen months at Rodez he produced the Cahiers de Rodez (15-21), notebooks documenting the deliria of those years, as well as the material, psychological, and spiritual conditions of his confinement. He returned a sort of tragic poet laureate, whose public celebration took place on 13 January 1947 as the famous lecture/poetry reading that he gave at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, attended by many of the most notable figures of the French cultural scene, including Gide, Camus, and Breton. Here he transfixed the audience – not by reading, as planned, the poems contained in Histoire vécue d'Artaud-Mômo, the texts of which were interspersed with his idiosyncratic glossolalic outbursts and incantations, but by breaking down under the force of his own emotions. This period also saw the creation of Van Gogh le suicidé de la société (Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society), which, as we shall see, evoked Artaud's estimation of his own treatment by society and prefigured his own fate.

To Have Done with the Judgment of God was recorded in the studios of French radio between 22 and 29 November 1947, with the sound effects recorded later and added to the final tape. The broadcast was scheduled for 10:45 P.M. on Monday, 2 February 1948, and was widely announced. But at the last moment, the day before, Wladimir Porché, the director of French radio, prohibited the broadcast. Serving as the conscience of the French public, he rationalized this suppression by arguing that the French people should be spared, or indeed protected from, Artaud's scatological, vicious, and obscene anti-Catholic and anti-American pronouncements.

In immediate response, Pouey organized the selection of a sort of aesthetic jury to consider the issue. Approximately fifty artists, writers, musicians, and journalists met at the offices of Radiodiffusion française for a private audition of the tapes on 5 February 1948; among those present were Raymond Queneau, Roger Vitrac, Jean-Louis Barrault, Jean Cocteau, René Clair, Paul Eluard, Jean Paulhan, Maurice Nadeau, Georges Auric, Claude Mauriac, and René Char. The opinion was almost unanimously favorable; Porché nevertheless persisted in his interdiction. Pouey quit his job in protest; the tape was not broadcast, only to be given a private audition at the Théâtre Washington on the evening of 23 February 1947 (to be broadcast on French radio only a quarter century later); on 4 March 1948 Artaud died. Artaud's reaction to this crushing blow is documented in a series of letters written to Porché, Pouey, and several friends (13:121-47). In a letter to Porché, Artaud insists that it was he, Artaud, who should be revolted and scandalized by the course of events, and that even if there were violent words and frightening statements in the pieces, it was done "in an atmosphere so far beyond life that I do not believe that at this point there remains a public capable of being scandalized by it" (13:132). He wanted to create a "novel work which would connect with certain organic points of life, a work which causes the entire nervous system to feel illuminated as if by a miner's cap, with vibrations and consonances that invite one to corporeally emerge in order to follow, in the sky, this new, unusual and radiant Epiphany" (13:131). And in a letter to René Guilly he further insists that the greater public, those who earn their living with their blood and sweat, eagerly awaited this broadcast, unlike the dung-heap capitalists who opposed it (13:135-36). This debate was pursued publicly in the newspapers, expectedly following the general polarizations of French culture of that epoch.

The description of To Have Done with the Judgment of God is extremely difficult, since this work exists in several different states, each highly incompatible with the others. A chronological list follows:

1. The dossier for the preparation of the broadcast (13:231nn) was compiled, in part based on an earlier project for a representation of the Last Judgment. This dossier contains many of the final elements of the work, including texts, poems, glossolalia, indications for sound effects, and so on.

2. The recordings themselves. These include readings by Artaud, Maria Casarès, Roger Blin, and Paule Thévenin, as well as sound effects provided by Artaud (drum, xylophone, and gong sounds, and a wide range of vocal effects). We should note that not all of the texts conceived as part of this work were actually edited into the tape: "Le théâtre de la cruauté" ("The Theater of Cruelty") was not recorded due to time limitations, and after the first mixing, Artaud made cuts in both the opening and concluding texts read by himself, and rerecorded the conclusion.

3. The tape was heard only in the two private auditions, and finally broadcast twenty-five years later. (See discography.)

4. The published text. A week after the first private audition, Combat published "Tutuguri," a part of the recorded text. In March 1948 the review Nyza 1 published the complete text, including those parts of the introduction and conclusion cut in the final tape. "Le Théâtre de la cruauté" was first published in the review 84 5-6, 1948, a special issue devoted to Artaud after his death. And in April 1948, K published the complete text of To Have Done with the Judgment of God in a book that included a press dossier and a selection of letters pertinent to the events.

Schematically, the tape is divided into the following parts: the introductory text (recited by Artaud); "Tutuguri, le rite du soleil noir" ("Tutuguri, the Rite of the Black Sun"), read by Maria Casarès; "La Recherche de la fécalité" ("The Pursuit of Fecality"), read by Roger Blin; "La Question se pose de ..." ("The Question Arises ..."), read by Paule Thévenin; the conclusion, read by Artaud. The recited texts are interspersed with percussive music effects, glossolalia, and screams.

The textual complexity of this work is a paradigm of why we must call into question any simply materialist or nominalist model of what constitutes an artistic text. In considering coherent themes developed within disparate texts and media, we will investigate the crucial importance of the differences – phonetic, expressive, and stylistic – between the written and the recorded texts, and in doing so we will chart the effects of the radiophonic work on the body of the artist and his auditors.

"To have done with the judgment of God" may be deemed, literally, the summation of Artaud's lifelong struggle, marking both the origins and the cataclysmic finale of his writings. This is particularly true in regard to the amphibology inherent in the phrasing of the title: it is both a question of God's judgment of Artaud and Artaud's judgment of God. In 1925, Artaud, having just joined the Surrealist movement, was appointed head of the Bureau de Recherches Surréalistes at which time he edited the third number of La Révolution Surréaliste, which bore the subtitle 1925: Fin de l'ère chrétienne (1925: End of the Christian Era). Among several other short texts by Artaud, this review contained his virulent Adresse au Pape (Address to the Pope) (1**:41); in good Surrealist fashion, one might have assumed that Artaud would have circumvented the theological problem from the beginning. But as we shall see, this was far from the truth. We should also note here, however, that at the end of his life Artaud chose to begin the definitive edition of his complete works with a new version of the Adresse au Pape, written in October 1946. This latter version begins with the diatribe

1° I renounce my baptism.

2° I shit on the christian name.

3° I jerk off on the cross of god (but masturbation, Pius XII, had never been one of my habits, and will never become one of them. Perhaps you will have to begin to understand me).

4° It is I (and not Jesus Christ) who had been crucified at Golgotha, and this occurred so that I could be held up against god and his christ, because I am a man and because god and his christ are only ideas which bear, moreover, the filthy mark of man's hand; and for me these ideas never existed. (1*:13)

This revindication of his earlier polemic marks the closure of a lifelong trajectory of suffering where the passions of the flesh were rarely dissociated from the spiritual passions of a theological dimension, often bearing cosmic – and markedly paranoid – proportions. To sum up the fundamental theme of these works, and of his deliria, we may cite an early entry in the Cahiers de Rodez, dated February 1945: "God is the monomaniac of the unconscious, the erotic of the unconscious, following the effort of conscious work" (15:315). In order to delineate this monomania, in order to understand his renunciation of God's judgment, we shall sketch out the salient features of his lifework in order to situate To Have Done with the Judgment of God and to consider the efficacy of his own judgment.

Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, Artaud's career began as it ended: with a rejection. In 1923 Artaud had submitted some of his poetry to La Nouvelle Revue Française (N.R.F.), then directed by Jacques Rivière: Rivière's rejection of these works gave rise to the now famous Une Correspondance, published in the N.R.F. 132 (1924). Rivière rejected these poems on formal grounds but found them interesting enough to wish to meet the author. In the resulting exchange of letters, Artaud outlined for the first time his theory of artistic creativity. Artaud's argument – in opposition to Rivière's insistence on the formal inadequacy of the poems – hinged on the spuriousness of the force/form distinction. Artaud claimed that the authenticity of these works was guaranteed by the suffering and passion invested in them, beyond all formal criteria. For Artaud, the formal turns of phrase characteristic of poetic language, which arise "from the profound incertitude of my thought" (1:24) are but an exteriorization of the internal passions and torments of the soul. "Thus when I can grasp a form, imperfect as it may be, I fix it, for fear of losing all thought" (1*:24).

This scatteredness of my poems, these defects of form, this constant sagging of my thought, must be attributed not to a lack of practice, a lack of command of the instrument that I employed, a lack of intellectual development; but to a central collapse of the soul, a sort of erosion, both essential and fleeting, of thought, to the temporary nonpossession of the material benefits of my development, to the abnormal separation of the elements of thought (the impulse to think, at each of the terminal stratifications of thought, passing through all the states, all the bifurcations, all the localizations of thought and of form). (1*:28)

Artaud wrote so as not to go mad; he had the right to speak because he suffered. In a sophisticated use of the intentional fallacy, he explains, "I am a man whose spirit has gready suffered, and by virtue of this I have the right to speak" (1*:30). This is a "right" that he was often denied. Indeed, owing to the frustrations of rejection, the torments of the soul, and the negative judgments of others, his speech was often transformed into the hyperbolic expression of pain and anger: the scream. The one poem contained in Une Correspondance is entitled "Cri" ("Scream" or "Cry"), where we read – in response to his current situation and in anticipation of many future impasses – of the "little celestial poet" in regard to whose work, "silence and night muzzle all impurity" (1*:31). But it was perhaps this constant struggle – with himself, his peers, his tradition, his god – that motivated him to attempt to express his deepest fears and agonies, manifested throughout his entire work.

By definition, in submitting his works to the N.R.F., he opened himself up to the judgment of others. This judgment was to become a determinant factor in his own self-definition, as well as the axis of his struggle against the world. "To cure me of the judgment of others, I have the entire distance that separates me from myself" (1*:27), he wrote to Rivière. But he ended the same letter with a curious formula, rather inhabitual in French: "I entrust myself to your judgment" (1*:30). Whereas he placed these early poetic works before the judgment of one man, the closure of his complete works assumes mythopoetic dimensions as this judgment is raised to a cosmic level; later, it is rather God's judgment that he must be done with, a judgment that will come to define the infinitesimally small space that delineates the self, that divides the self from itself. That space is his unconscious, haunted by God and His demons.


Excerpted from Phantasmic Radio by Allen S. Weiss. Copyright © 1995 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments Preface: Radio Phantasms, Phantasmic Radio Chapter 1. From Schizophrenia to Schizophonica: Antonin Artaud's To Have Done with the Judgment of God Chapter 2. The Radio as Musical Instrument: John Cage's Imaginary Landscapes Chapter 3. Mouths of Disquietude, Language in Mutation: Valère Novarina's Theater of the Ears Chapter 4. Lost Tongues and Disarticulated Voices: Gregory Whitehead's Pressures of the Unspeakable Postface: Radio Solipsism Notes Select Bibliography Select Discography Index

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